In this series, I'll be looking at players who I'll reach for in drafts. These are guys I believe have the ability to win your league, not just keep you in the running.
I'll start with my top-tier guys and work my way down to value plays, but I'll always choose players who I think have the ability to break out and carry your team. So without further adieu.
Justin Forsett, RB, Ravens (Added Aug. 22)
Justin Forsett won't even be the Ravens' goal line back, but I'm still drafting him in the second round due to his new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. Over his career, Trestman has boosted his running backs reception numbers immensely. Take a look at the reception numbers for some of his past backs - Derek Loville 87, Terry Kirby 52, Larry Centers 69, Adrian Murrell 49, Michael Pittman 73, Charlie Garner 91 and Matt Forte 74 and 102. Those reception totals are undeniable, and Trestman isn't going to just stop throwing to the running back.
Lorenzo Taliaferro could easily take some carries away from Forsett, but those aren't the carries we want Forsett to have anyway. Forsett's not going to grind out that fourth-and-1, and if he does, his chances of injury are increased. Forsett makes up for it with his yards per carry. Give him 225 carries, and he's getting you more than 1,000 yards, and then add in 60 receptions, and you have another 400-500 yards. Those numbers are his floor this season with Marshall Yanda anchoring the Ravens' top-five offensive line.
Forsett's career-high in carries is the 235 from last season. The logical assumption would have been, if Forsett saw more carries, his efficiency would fall, but last season, he led the league with a whopping 5.4 yards per carry while rushing 117 more times than he ever had in a season. The only year he had a higher YPC was in 2012 when he had just 63 attempts, including an 81-yard touchdown run. Those 5.4 yards per carry were earned.
Many will worry about Forsett's soon-to-be 30-year-old body breaking down, but in his six seasons, he has totaled just 582 carries and 159 receptions. His injury rap sheet is extremely short, and he won't be used as the hammer back in this offense.
Forsett is a second-round pick, and that's where he should be. A running back who has a good possibility to catch 60 or more passes is a safe fantasy running back. Of course, in PPR leagues, he gets a big boost, but just the fact that he is getting the ball 60 times outside of the pocket is huge, especially for someone like Forsett who works best in space. Last season, his receptions were fairly mundane in the sense that many of them were dump-off throws instead of dedicated routes. With Trestman, Forsett will have a more diverse receiving game, which should help his yards per reception. Don't be afraid of his high price tag this season.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Rob Gronkowski makes for a bold and high-upside pick early in the first round. I have Gronk as eighth overall in my rankings, but would in no way be surprised to see him go first overall in a draft. I would consider it myself, especially with the No. 1 spot being so perilous. I love the Top-20 players in my rankings, but when you get the first pick, you only get one of them, so I like to take an extreme upside approach out of the one-hole, and Gronkowski has extreme upside.
Last season, the worry was if Gronkowski would even play in Week 1 after tearing his ACL and MCL in December of 2013, but he did play and finished the season as the No. 1 tight end with 82 receptions for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns across 15 games (he sat out Week 17). Gronkowski will come in at full strength this season, and we have seen his upside in his only other fully healthy season in 2011 when he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.
A similar season to that makes Gronkowski a great No. 1 pick, and now that Jimmy Graham is blocking for the Seahawks, there's nobody who, on paper, will rival him at the tight end position. And that supremacy at the position is one of the greatest strengths of drafting him. In Value Based Drafting, you are looking for scarcity and value. Gronk is so far ahead of every other tight end that the odds he will score more than the tight end you are facing that week are always on your side. And, the odds that he'll outscore that tight end by a wide margin are also very good. When picking any other player in the league, you just can't say that.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
There are many reasons to like Julio Jones, but the one I like best is that he could easily lead the league in targets this season. Last year, Jones finished third with 163 targets, averaging 10.2 per game, while Roddy White finished with 124 and Harry Douglas with 74. This season with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan calling the plays, we should see even more reliance on his No. 1 receiver.
As offensive coordinator for Pierre Garcon and Andre Johnson, Shanahan helped both lead the league in targets and receptions. He is the reason we still have fond memories of Garcon as a fantasy player and the person who led the Texans and Matt Schaub to a fourth- and first-place finish in passing yards his two seasons there. Both of those years were also Andre Johnson's biggest seasons as he led the league in receiving yards and also had his highest touchdown total ever with nine.
Last season the lack of touchdowns, six in total, is what kept Jones from a top-five fantasy finish while he compiled 104 receptions for 1,593 yards. So the question is, will Jones score more touchdowns this year? Well, at least, we know he can score more touchdowns. In 2011-2012, Jones scored 18 touchdowns on 133 receptions; that's a touchdown every 7.4 receptions compared to his touchdown per 17.3 receptions last season. At 6-foot-4, 224 pounds and with a 4.42-second 40 time, there really is no good reason not to get Jones the ball in the red zone. But last season, Roddy White had 14 red-zone targets to Jones' 12. In 2012 when Jones finished with 10 touchdowns, he had 20 red-zone targets. So of course, we would like that number to go up, and I think it will.
Roddy White's knee is a now just a receptacle for gross fluid that needs to drain every once in a while. He's also 33 years old and on the decline. The odds that White once again leads the team in red-zone targets are slim. Add in the fact that there is no dominant runner or tight end to get the Falcons in the end zone, and I see Matt Ryan and Shanahan funneling the ball to Jones as often as possible.
I have no qualms in getting Jones in the first round this season, especially in PPR leagues. His ADP in non-PPR leagues is much lower than in PPR, with a No. 7 overall in PPR and No. 17 overall in Non-PPR. That drop is based on his lack of touchdowns last season, and I think you should do your best to take advantage of that. Jones' touchdowns will go up along with his non-PPR league value.